Decisions, decisions

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How do editors choose what will be on the cover of a magazine?

afghan women

Addario shot this image in Afghanistan when she encountered a woman about to give birth and her mother. Their borrowed car had broken down, so the photographer gave them and the baby’s father a ride to the hospital. Photo: Lynsey Addario

In terms of subject matter, it’s often an easy decision. Lynsey Addario ’95, who shot the photo we selected for this issue, is one of the world’s foremost photojournalists, and featuring the talent of such an accomplished alumna seemed particularly appropriate as we recognize the Wisconsin Alumni Association’s 150th anniversary this year. It’s not every day that On Wisconsin gets to showcase such amazing work.

Clinching the decision was the fact that Addario made international headlines in March when she and three other journalists, including fellow alum Anthony Shadid ’90, were captured in Libya while covering the conflict there for the New York Times. After breathing a collective sigh of relief once the four were released, the editors agreed that this made Addario’s story even more newsworthy.

Choosing which of the photographer’s stunning shots to put on the cover was more difficult. As art director Earl Madden MFA’ 82 commented (several times), Addario’s range of vision is remarkable. She has an innate eye for composition and detail, giving much of her work a painterly quality.

Fortunately, a few practicalities helped to narrow down the choices. Cover shots must have space at the top for the magazine’s title. And while the format of On Wisconsin is vertical, many of Addario’s shots were horizontal. Cropping a horizontal image was an option, but this robbed many of the photos of their artistry.

Still, Madden found some images that could be cropped, including a photo of two women in burkas crossing a desolate mountainside (published here); the haunting image on page 25; and the shot of the woman and child that, in the end, we chose for the cover. As scenic as the other two photos were, this one was the most powerful. As co-editor Cindy Foss said, the incongruity of the image is compelling, as the eye is drawn to the contrast between the peaceful, sleeping child and the grieving woman. It speaks volumes about the empathy of a master picture-maker and her compassionate eye.

We hope you agree.

Published in the Summer 2011 issue

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